Fire's Nikolic credits advance preparation for winning margin vs. Crew SC

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Success is no accident.

So goes the old mantra that preparation and hard work are the keys to success, and the Chicago Fire’s striker Nemanja Nikolic proved that on Saturday night with a winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC whose roots can be traced back to the detailed and exhaustive work of the team’s technical staff.

Nikolic capitalized on a poor attempted clearance from the usually reliable Zack Steffen in the Columbus goal, pouncing on a risky and poorly executed pass to Wil Trapp before keeping his nerve to slot the ball past the visiting goalkeeper from 15 yards.

Despite dominating possession 65 percent to 35 percent, and having 20 shots to the hosts’ six, Crew SC failed to claw their way back into the game, as the Fire held firm for their first win of the season, at the fourth attempt. The win lifts Veljko Paunovic’s men off the bottom of the Eastern Conference and into eighth spot.

Speaking exclusively to MLSsoccer.com following the match, the Hungarian international said a briefing from Chicago goalkeeping coach Aleksandar Saric and the rest of the coaching staff identified Steffen’s penchant for playing out from the back as a potential area of weakness for the Fire’s forwards to exploit. 

“I have a really good coaching staff, the goalkeeper coach Saric gave me good advice,” Nikolic said. “They analyze like always our opponents. We knew that Steffen likes to play out from the back, Artur and Trapp they like to come to receive the ball, they are not afraid to play behind and our pressing in the first 15 to 20 minutes with me, [Alan] Gordon and Diego [Campos] was quite ok.”

“It was good pressure from the three of us and from all of the team, so I am really happy that we were in the good spots,” he added. “After that, the execution was also good. Today we don’t have too many opportunities, but what we have we score.”

The goal against Columbus was Nikolic’s fourth in four games as he continues to find the net despite the Fire’s sluggish start to the new campaign. The Men in Red were not at their best again as a combination of poor finishing, the woodwork and Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez meant the visitors remained scoreless despite their dominance in possession.

“I cannot be completely satisfied because the team is struggling a little bit, but it was a really important three points for us today,” Nikolic said. “It was an important game, it was not our best game since I’ve come here, but still, we fought a lot for every ball and finally we don’t concede the goals. We are really happy about these three points, I am really happy about the goal, of course, like always, we just need to be focused to win this kind of game. Sometimes you need to win when you don’t play great, like today.”